Title: Cold and Damp
Summary: After Seoul becomes infested with the living dead and the government abandons them; it's only natural that they realise hidden feelings in the midst of disaster.
intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | final
As he hammered the last nail into the fire exit, he realised just how silent it had grown. It seemed to swallow him, smothering him in its absurd density. He dropped his hammer into his toolbox, jumped down off the ladder and pulled it along behind him, screeching noisily along the buffered laminate. The noise made his hairs stand on end, but any sound was better than that silence. His toolbox clattered and shook, sitting precariously on one of the steps, and when he brought the ladder to an abrupt stop a screwdriver clattered to the floor, the sudden sound making his heart skip a beat. He reached down, and on his knees he turned it in his hands, sighed. He sat, leaned against the ladder with his head back against the cool metal. This was some deep shit he’d found himself in, a tidal wave of shit that was sweeping him away, dragging him deeper into its depths with every passing moment.
There’d been whispers, ridiculous stories of cannibalism and terrifying acts of violence, laughable headlines on the news and splashed across the front pages of newspapers. Nobody could believe what was happening, and how could they? This was a thing of fiction, of movies and novels and cheap unrated comic books. Even when it happened in front of their eyes nobody could believe it. Nobody wanted to.
It started as a flu, countless people around the world becoming sick with an unknown virus, some dying, some becoming aggressive, some becoming outright unapproachable. Scratching, biting, loss of comprehension. It swept the world, and before you could blink people were talking about the dead coming back to life. But nobody expected it to come to their doorstep, to Korea. At college only the fanatics gave a flying crap about the whole zombie fuss, everybody else got on with their studies, their drinking, and their partying.
But Hankyung couldn’t relax. It gnawed at his mind day by day and somehow he knew this wasn’t a hoax. When China was quarantined, he realised just how right he’d been. He couldn’t contact his mother no matter how many times he tried. The North was deserted, Japan was a scorched wasteland. Eventually, Korea caught on. People started boarding up their windows, hitting the shops and petrol stations in blind panic. Hankyung was prepared, though, unlike the blind mass of youths surrounding him day in day out, he knew the danger hurtling towards him and he was ready.
He didn’t have friends at college, at most he had a few acquaintances, and even they were hard to name. He was shy, awkward, a stunted Chinese accent making him hard to understand, and people just got fed up of trying to speak to him. Naturally he’d improved, but by then he had nobody to talk to anyway so he ended up becoming even more of a recluse, a shadow. He took having no friends as a positive, though. He had more time to work, and work he did. He had a part time job in a big shopping plaza, and of course they paid him as low a salary as they could get away with. But he put up with it, he had to. He’d left China to study in Korea, taking on a ridiculous amount of overtime to pay his rent and feed himself, and in the end his desperation for money had put him in the best possible position.
When the dead started washing up on the shores, and of course when they proceeded to get up and chase people, the staff around him soon stopped coming to work. Soon he was the only one left, more people calling in sick every day. This place was a fortress, and when smoke started to rise on the horizon and every tv channel showed scenes of devastation he soon realised how damn lucky he was to be so alone. Days had passed in silence as he shut himself in, barred every door, and boarded up every window. His hands were constantly sore from hammering, his feet aching from walking every floor just to make sure he was really alone. Not a soul tried to get in; in fact people seemed to avoid the huge shopping plaza, intimidated by its size and dangerous potential. All the better, he supposed.
He worked here as a security guard, and after three years he knew each corner and crevice of the four storey building. Polished pale laminate floors and marble décor as far as the eye could see, a place once heaving with people now left empty and silent, the only sound being the echo of his footsteps as he plodded tiredly to the third floor. The stairwell was pitch black, the steps impossible to see beneath his feet. He’d turned the power off on the way up – there was no good in advertising his whereabouts. Every floor had huge floor-length windows the whole way around, and keeping the lights on would attract attention Hankyung didn’t want. He shoved the doors open to the third floor as he reached the top of the stairwell, his shoes squeaking shrilly on the laminate as he made his way to the bedroom showrooms, a map of the place burned into his mind. There was light here, though, a soft pale moonlight bouncing off the polished floors. He stopped at the foot of one of the show beds, sinking down into the soft mattress and kicking off his shoes, wiggling his stiff, sore toes. He didn’t get undressed, he just collapsed there in his work clothes, and he wondered if he was really all that was left. He turned onto his side, towards the windows, and the view gave him chills, a loneliness coming over him in the sheer desolation he saw outside. The night was aflame, fires as far as his eyes could see; smoke billowing across the burnt grey horizon. Lights twinkled, almost deceiving him into thinking there were people down there, as if there was someone calling to him, begging him to notice there was still hope, that someone was waiting for him.
He turned away and slept.
His shoes were wasted, every crack and dip in the pavement felt through the thin, worn soles. If he’d known he’d be walking this much he wouldn’t have worn his designer leather steel-toed boots. He knew it was the end of the world and everything, but he just couldn’t bring himself to leave them behind. He pulled his thick black coat tighter around himself, nuzzling into the fur at his neck as his breath vaporised in the crisp February air. Even though it was icy cold his hair was stuck to his face in sweaty, greasy clumps and he knew his expensive silk shirt had sweat patches that probably wouldn’t wash out. He walked briskly, silently through the streets of Seoul, the sky pale and full of clouds, the sun still rising behind them. His skinny frame was hunched as he walked, the weight of his backpack too much for his weak shoulders to bear. Most people would’ve packed weapons, warm clothes, water or food when they heard it was the end of the world as they knew it. He’d brought clothes and shoes, because even in a zombie apocalypse you need to look stylish.
He’d been walking for days, hiding anywhere he could; shops, flats, and cars – just for one or two hours of uneasy sleep. And that was if he was lucky. Those things were everywhere; they could hear you breathing, your heart thumping in your chest. Whenever he thought he’d found somewhere safe and secure he’d hear the shuffling, the groaning, and he’d be on his feet again, wishing he’d packed some more appropriate footwear. He’d escaped his college campus with haste, not thinking a single thing through. He’d left everything behind, even his best friend, and now he regretted it deeply. His friend was useless, a skinny thing scared of his own shadow, but it was better than nothing. It was better than being alone. He’d have someone to watch his back while he slept - someone to rely on. But instead all he had was himself, and perfect as he was he still wasn’t quite as useful as a team.
He looked awful, and he knew that for a fact. For the first time in his life he was avoiding his reflection rather than going out of his way to catch a glimpse of it. His hair was damp with sweat, clinging to his dirty, pale face with unruly determination. His wide eyes were sunken and underlined by dark circles and his lips were cracked and dry. His fingernails were jagged and dirty, dry blood crusted beneath them, and his clothes were covered in stains he’d never be able to get out.
When he’d ran away from college, the news hadn’t completely hit home yet. He thought it was one big game, some excitement he couldn’t wait to experience. The first day after his escape, he’d taken shelter in a flat above a shop just a few streets away from his college. He’d been fine until he realised he hadn’t packed any food at all, and his stomach happened to alert the infected inhabitant of the flat from his slumber. His friends had always said his eyes took up all the room in his head, and he’d barely escaped that close encounter, grabbing a sandwich and a few chocolate bars on the way out of the shop, laughing at how slow the miserable creature tottering after him was. It was a game to him, a world of fun where he got to steal and attack people without getting into trouble. He didn’t have to search hard for a weapon; they littered the streets, simple things like kitchen knives and pots and pans. The more heavy duty weapons were usually grasped tightly in the cold, rigid hands of the recently un-deceased so he settled for a frying pan. The streets of inner-city Seoul were thriving with people, both alive and dead. A mess of humans, some trying to escape and some trying to seek some thrills, driven by adrenaline and stupidity. A few had even gathered and organised themselves into a small army - if you could call it that. The real army hadn’t been seen, but it was more than likely they’d been the first to be wiped out.
On his second day after escaping, he’d sat and watched the panic from the safety of an abandoned apartment balcony. He was safer up here than down there, he knew. He’d get crushed in the confusion if he tried to brave the streets below, and so he watched as the ranks broke and the battle cries were drowned out by screams and desperate cries for help. He turned the frying pan in his hands, wondering if he’d actually be able to use it when the shit hit the fan. He’d never seen so much blood before, even a nosebleed made him feel faint. The excitement started to fizzle away, replaced by a deep dread, a fear gnawing at his insides.
This was his third day. The skies had parted in the early morning, cold February rain pummelling the ground. It was a good thing, though. The thundering rainfall made his footsteps hard to hear, making him a shadow, unnoticeable to the meandering, slow undead strewn about the streets. He’d made it to downtown Jung-gu, footsore and weary and soaked to the bone. He’d been prepared for hordes, for screams and carnage, but it was completely peaceful. Miles of silent traffic filled the streets and buildings burned in the skyline behind him yet there wasn’t a soul to be seen, alive nor dead. He took it as a blessing.
His footsteps began to slow, a trudging, tired pace setting in as his muscles started to ache. He looked up from where his gaze had been resting on the sorry state of his favourite shoes, to the view ahead of him. He’d come to the end of an alleyway, the world suddenly growing awfully brighter, and he covered his eyes with his hands as they adjusted to the light. Then he saw it, the most beautiful thing he’d seen in days; a vending machine. The front was torn off and a selection of canned refreshments were on display. His exhaustion faded in a flash, his feet seeming to glide over to the machine, his tongue running over his dry lips, anticipating the cool hydration to come. He grabbed a can of coke, still cold and fresh, and opened it with a crack, a fizzy hiss, glugging the contents like he’d never drank before. It ran down his chin, down his neck, and he wiped it from his lips, sighing in satisfaction. Only then did he check his surroundings, eyes darting here and there, taking in everything around him. He couldn’t have ended up in a better place – hotels and shopping malls sprung up in every direction. Words couldn’t explain how much he longed for a soft bed to collapse in; a far cry from the cold, damp alleyway he’d briefly slept in last night, reeking of urine and alcohol.
And how he could kill for a coffee, black with two sugars. A shower wouldn’t be too far a stretch, either. It was quite a culture shock, going from every material need and comfort he could ever wish for to having only the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet. He didn’t bother scouting around; he simply aimed for the closest store in sight. A hotel would be too dangerous, too many rooms. This shopping mall was his best bet.
He walked up to the large glass doors, put his hands against them and peeked inside, his breath steaming against the panes. All he saw was darkness. He sighed, tweaked a handle. It wouldn’t budge, he pulled it harder, shook it with all the might he could muster, but nothing happened. He kicked the glass in frustration, a dull thud answering him back. Locked. His only entrance – brilliant. He looked up at the large building towering over him, sighed. His eyes trailed over the fancy gold lettering adorning the polished glass. ‘The Galleria’
As he read the name his eyes grew wide, his over-tired mind springing back into action. His feet moved on their own, walking over to a large marble pillar at the side of the building. He walked slowly around, and felt a thrill ripple through him at the sight of the staff entrance. He silently praised himself, congratulating himself on all his years of unnecessary shoplifting. He had the money, but he wanted the thrill. Places like this were filled with people too busy with their own business to notice him shoving accessories up his over-sized sweater. He’d been here so many times that he knew the exits and entrances like the back of his hand. He took a deep breath; walked up to the rusty grey door and as he exhaled he tried the handle. The paint was peeling away, rust setting in around the knob, and he gritted his teeth as it screeched shrilly before the lock let out a click, the door opening stiffly. He took a moment to thank whatever God he felt like believing in right then. He’d never been religious, but at that moment he had no one else to thank for making him so utterly brilliant.
He felt the heat rush at his face as he stepped inside, closing the door softly behind him. He breathed in the clean air – not stale and reeking of decay like the air outside. He was in complete darkness here, and he walked forward with slow, careful steps, pulling his cell phone from his jeans pocket and flipping it open, using the screen as a torch. He saw a door before him and tapped it open, grabbing it before it could slam against the wall outside. He’d never seen this place like this, so quiet and dark and desolate. It was unnerving. He walked on his tiptoes, trying not to let his shoes squeak on the laminate flooring. He was on the ground floor, the showrooms for kitchens and seating appearing whenever he cast the light of his cell phone upon them. He’d happily crash on one of these sofas, but he had to check this place out first. He’d had a lot of luck so far, but it would be more than luck if this place was empty. He could be in a nest of those things for all he knew, infected hiding in the darkness just waiting to take him unaware. As he continued deeper into the building he noticed how the windows were boarded up, how there were chocolate bar wrappers and crushed soda cans strewn around here and there. There was somebody else here.
He walked up the stationary escalators to the third floor, and at the sight of beds he could only think of how he wished he could just collapse onto one right then. Even if someone else was here, surely they’d be glad of the company? Someone to watch their back, right? He let his backpack slide from his shoulders, hitting the ground with a soft thump. He kicked off his shoes, shrugged off his coat and put his cell phone back into his jeans. The battery was low and his service was awful, but it could still prove useful. He slid beneath the sheets, nuzzled into a pillow and let sleep pull him under. Just an hour would be enough, he thought. He didn't notice the man sleeping soundly beside him.